203. Lowestoft to Southwold

June 2009

I’m nearing the end of Suffolk now, as my start point for this walk, Lowestoft is only a few miles south from the border with Norfolk. It is also almost 9 months since my previous walk on the coast of Suffolk. I’d not stopped walking the coast but rather I’d started going to different parts of the coast generally depending on where I could get a cheap train ticket to visit (or where there weren’t engineering works), rather than strictly walking the coast in order (even though I’m writing them up in order).

This time I’m walking south rather than north. That is largely because there are fewer trains to Halesworth, the nearest station to Southwold and the choice was either 7:38am (earlier than I’d like) or 9:38am (later than I’d like). So I decided instead to begin from Lowestoft and walk south to Southwold. I also planned it this way so that if I arrive earlier than I need to be in Southwold (to get home) I have time to explore this pretty town. If I did so at the start I would have to be careful to plan enough time to complete the walk.

I take the train from home to London Waterloo and the tube across to London Liverpool Street station where I take the 9am train to Norwich. There are two rail routes to Lowestoft. The direct route (which at the time ran once every 2 hours) or an indirect route via Norwich, which runs hourly. Oddly, the latter route is quicker despite the extra change, so that is the way I’m going today. So I took the train to Norwich, which is a nice long train with a buffet car, which makes a nice change, as it means I can have a cup of tea on the way.

From there I changed onto the local train to Lowestoft along one route of what are known as “The Wherry Lines“. My train arrives on time at the slightly faded and probably once grand railway station, which still bares a ceramic sign on the side of the station announcing it as “British Railways Lowestoft Central”, though these days the station no longer has the “Central” suffix, since the other station in Lowestoft closed. Lowestoft is also the most easterly railway station in the UK, a reminder that I’m nearing the most easterly point of the UK, which I’ll reach on my next walk.

I’d never been to Lowestoft before and it seems a much larger place than I was expecting. The road outside the station also seems very unusual (it was the A12, it has since been renumbered the A47, for some reason) in that it has 3 lanes in total, 2 for traffic in one direction and 1 in the opposite direction, but the direction of traffic on the centre lane can be reversed, with signs above the lanes indicating which way to go. It’s not a system I recall seeing anywhere else in the UK before.

From the station I turn right where the road crosses the inner harbour on a bridge. The inner harbour is connected further inland to Oulton Broad which flows out to the sea here (I must be nearing Nortfolk,  as the Broads are very much associated with Norfolk, not Suffolk). It is quite a big port with a lot of industry on either side but once across the river the town seems to switch to be more leisure orientated.

I pass a marina and then reach the East Point Pavilion which seem to house the Tourist Information Centre and looks to have one of those fountains where sprays of water pop up out of the ground in front of it, but it is turned off (or broken) today.

Lowestoft station

Just behind this is the South Pier Family Entertainment Centre, which seems now to occupy one of the arms of the harbour wall rather than be a pier as such.

South Pier, Lowestoft

Just south of this is the start of the sandy South Beach. Although it’s overcast it is at least reasonably warm and there are a few families out enjoying the beach.

The beach at Lowestoft

It seems to be more or less high tide since there is not much sand between the waves and the sea wall, but what there is all soft sand.

There is a promenade here and I follow that south soon reaching another pier. This one is more what I expect a pier to look like and is known as Claremont Pier and it’s south of the South Pier (how confusing!).

The beach at Lowestoft

The pier building at the landward end is very ugly, but I’m hoping to walk to the end of the pier, as I like to do. Sadly as I get closer I can see this isn’t possible. Most of the seaward and of the pier is fenced off, with only a couple of metres accessible beyond the building. The rest is derelict and has no railings on either side. In fact the pier had been put up for sale by the current owners a couple of years previously, but was never sold.

Beyond the pier, the promenade is lined with rather uniform beach huts, painted red, blue, yellow, green in a repeating sequence. I prefer the rather more individually decorated beach huts at Southwold, which have more character.

Beach huts at Lowestoft

As I head further south the beach gets wider and so I leave the promenade and head down onto the beach instead.

The beach at Lowestoft

Up on the cliffs to the right is a large building. Part of it looks like it was (or is) a grand hotel the other is a horrible 1960s concrete building, but I later found it is not a hotel now, but an office and laboratory.

The beach at Lowestoft

The beach was still mostly soft sand and hard going so I soon returned to the promenade. However this soon ended but there was now a footpath which continued along the coast. This passed in front of a large church, which is right on the coast.

Pakefield Church, Lowestoft

The beach has now changed from sand to mostly shingle, with an area of dunes at the back of the beach and some more beach launched fishing boats beyond that. It is a grey and misty day and much of Lowestoft is now disappearing into the haze behind me.

The coast near Lowestoft

About 500 metres beyond this the Suffolk Coast Path diverts inland, though a footpath is marked on the map as continuing along the coast, so I follow that. Soon the footpath enters a caravan site where the footpath just seems to drop down onto the beach and end. I guess the route of the footpath marked on the map has been lost to erosion. About a mile and a half further south is the town of Kessingland.

The official route of the coast path takes a particularly un-appealing route, alongside the busy A12 trunk road for a mile then along the B1437 before finally returning to the shore at Kessingland. So I don’t really want to go that way. Although it appeared to be about high tide when I arrived at Lowestoft, the tide is now going out. It looks to me like I will be able to get along the beach and I know I’m not at risk of being cut off with the tide going out. So I decide a preferable route is to walk along the beach instead.

The coast near Kessingland

So that is what I do, but it turns out to be hard work because the sand has all gone now, replaced by shingle, which is hard to walk on. I battle along for a while but behind the beach are low sand-stone cliffs. These are incredibly soft and pretty low and they seem to be eroding very quickly. Where they are eroding, they have created a narrow line of sand at the back of the beach, with pebbles underneath. So I walk along this little bit of sand as much as possible, the profile of the cliffs are such that the sand would slide down them rather than fall off on me, so it felt quite safe.

The coast near Kessingland

In places dunes are starting to form where so much sand has buried the shingle. I can also see a dog walker ahead of me on the beach so I can at least follow the way he goes.

The coast near Kessingland

After a while the line of sand at the back of the beach gets wider and wider until the beach is about 50% sand and 50% shingle (the latter at the shoreline). It is quite odd and now I can see why people tell me that Southwold varies between sand and shingle.

The coast near Kessingland

There is evidence of cliffs falls all along the cliffs ahead,. They are now getting higher and seem to be changing to a greyer type of rock (or clay) ahead. By this point I’ve stopped walking right at the base of the cliffs, because there is now more sand, the cliffs are much higher and steeper so the danger of rock falls seems much greater now.

The cliffs are clearly very soft, there is little vegetation on them and at the top I can see what I presume is a building left from World War II perched right on the edge, almost over hanging.

The coast near Kessingland

The beach is rather beautiful now. Lowestoft is a long way behind me. There are pretty cliffs, a nice sandy beach and few people about just me and the sound of the waves to my left.

The coast near Kessingland

I am enjoying having the beach to my self, but it doesn’t last as I approach Kessingland. Here there are families on the beach, but it is still not exactly crowded.

The coast near Kessingland

Having passed the soft eroding cliffs earlier when I look back to Kessingland it looks as if the beach is growing here. There is a lot of sand and shingle between me and the low cliffs and from the amount of marram grass taking hold on the shingle and sand it does not look as if the sea ever reaches the back of the beach.

The coast near Kessingland

Behind the beach are gently sloping grassy cliffs with houses on the top, the first houses of Kessingland.

I continue south and the beach really is huge here. Much of the sand and shingle has largely grassed over, and it stretches for about 300 metres inland to the low grassy cliffs.

The coast near Kessingland

The coast near Kessingland

As I continue south though the beach starts to narrow again. The official route of the Suffolk Coast Path has rejoined the back of the beach now, but from the shore where I am it’s route is not obvious and so I continue to make my way over the sand and shingle heading south.

I soon reach a caravan site on the left, the last structures of Kessingland. Ahead there is a large structure, a pumping station at the mouth of the Hundred River. The official Suffolk Coast Path goes along in front of this (as do I), where the path briefly goes between fences, to emerge on the beach beyond.

Just after this, the official coast path takes another of its inland diversions, this time to go past a pond, New Cut Drain. However past this it heads even further inland, to follow roads and tracks all the way into Southwold. At times, it is over 2 miles from the coast. Not really a coast path, then.

I check on the map and it looks to me that it is possible to walk on the beach all the way to Southwold, at least at low tide (and I know the tide is going out). The issue is that immediately behind the beach are three large lakes (broads), that seems to stretch right down to the beach. None of them have a stream or channel of water flowing out onto the beach according to the map (but it does make me wonder where the water does go). So I hope it is possible to walk along the shore.

The first of the broads (Benacre Broad) is the largest and it’s about half a mile away. I decide that I will try to walk along the beach past this. If I can get past, I will be confident about getting past the others (and there are a couple of roads and paths that head down to the coast beyond, so I can use these to get back to the official route if I’m wrong).

So that is what I do, continue along the beach. Once again, it varies between sand and shingle but there is usually a line of sand at the base of the cliffs.

The coast near Kessingland

Ahead though I soon reach my first problem. The cliffs here are very soft, and as a result they erode quickly. This means some trees that were once on the cliff top have now fallen onto the beach ahead. I can however squeeze past them at the shore line, but this is a problem I hadn’t considered and I am hoping I don’t find any further fallen trees.

The coast near Kessingland

Soon I reach the back of the broad. As I hoped, the beach is clear of water and streams. Though it is again littered with the remains of old trees.

The coast near Kessingland

A fence separates the back of the beach from the broad (Benacre Broad), which is marked as a National nature reserve and so I assume the fence is to stop people getting any closer and distributing the wildlife on the broad, which stretches quite far inland.

The coast at Benacre Broad

So I hoped to keep dry feet, though just as I’m passing the broad a heavy shower passes, so I do still get a bit wet, but it only lasts a few minutes.

Near the end of the broad there is part of a dead tree trunk standing upright in the waves.

IMG_0909

Most odd. I can’t imagine this is a natural occurrence as trees don’t grow on sandy beaches generally and if it did and the tide has now reached it, I would have though it would have fallen over. I suspect someone put it like that, for some reason.

The coast at Benacre Broad

At the end of the broad I can see the beach is again backed by trees, some of which are at odd angles, but the beach does look clear.

The coast south of Kessingland

Here I’m seeing people sitting on the beach again. This seems odd as there is no footpath or road reaching the shore here (or car park marked nearby), but I assume there must be a path or car park somewhere nearby (perhaps for the nature reserve). This prompts me to investigate. Beyond the broad there are low cliffs starting again. I went up to these and spot a path along the top. It is not marked on the map as a right of way, but it is clearly well used and I assume this is what the people on the beach used to get here.

The coast near Covehithe

So I follow that and find and nice easy path along the tops of the low cliffs, which is clearly well used.

The coast near Covehithe

Inland a church is marked on the map, but as I come closer I can see it’s partly ruined. The tower is still standing, but the rest of the church now has no roof and I can see now from the map it is marked as “St Andrews Church (Remains Of)”.

Covehithe ruined church

It seems to have once served Covehithe which now just seems to consist of a single farm (Church Farm). I wondered if the church was inland from the rest of the village and the rest of the village has been lost to coastal erosion, hence the church no longer being used.

The road serving the church continues to reach the cliffs I’m on, and then simply fall over the edge of the cliffs! The road must have gone somewhere once so adding weight to my theory there was once a larger village here.

Covehithe Cliff Road

In fact peering over the end of the road there is now a lovely sandy beach below and it is clear from all the footprints people walk down the gently sloping sandy cliffs to the beach. The path I’ve followed seems to end here too. So I decide to follow others down the gently sloping sandy cliffs too and so I’m soon back on the beach. It’s nice to be back beside the waves now the beach is sandy and easy to walk on.

The coast near Covehithe

The cliffs are very soft and later on the right I can see where crops have been planted, but the cliffs have eroded so much I can see the roots of the plants, some of which have eroded right out of the field and ended up down the cliff face. This also makes it clear, there is still no path along the cliff tops.

The coast near Covehithe

The cliffs soon get lower and then disappear entirely, as I reach Covehithe Broad. This is reedy and again fenced off from the beach but once again there is no stream flowing out onto the beach, so I have no trouble getting past.

Covehithe Broad

Ahead the cliffs begin again and once more they are backed by woodland (Easton Wood).

The coast north of Southwold

A few of the trees have fallen onto the beach again from erosion but are piled up at the base of the cliffs, rather than sideways out onto the beach, so it is easy for me to get past.

The coast north of Southwold

The cliffs then soon drop down again as I past the last broad, Easton Broad, but there are quite tall dunes along here so I can’t actually see it unless I climb to the top of the dunes and so I don’t bother.

The coast north of Southwold

Beyond it there are again low sandy cliffs, but I’m also pleased to see Southwold Pier ahead.

The coast north of Southwold

I can see the beach is clear and there are people ahead so I know I’ll have no troubles with the rest of my beach walk. I’m rather glad I opted for this route and it worked so well, as I’ve really enjoyed walking along these near-desreted sandy beaches beside the waves (I’m not sure I could say the same for a walk beside the A12).

As I near Southwold I start to see houses on the cliff tops. Some look very close and I can’t imagine they will survive much longer.

Clifftop home

A couple of hundred metres beyond this there is some concrete blocks which I think are to try to reduce the erosion and then a concrete promenade a short distance beyond that. Here a sign warns me about the beach I’ve just left “Due to variable beach levels, access to the beach may be restricted, proceed with caution”. Well that would have been a blow to have got here and found the beach blocked off, so I’m glad it wasn’t restricted today.

Southwold

I join the promenade now and I guess this concrete wall must be doing it’s job, as the beach level is much lower beyond this now and so the waves reach right to the sea wall, so it is not possible to safely walk along the beach.

Southwold

In fact even on this fairly calm day the sea seems to be lapping very close to these beach huts.

Southwold

It puzzles me because the tide was going out as I left Lowestoft, but it seems much higher in Southwold.

I do like these beach huts though, all painted in different colours and patterns, perhaps reflecting the character of the owners.

Southwold

Soon I’ve reached the pier, where I had got to on my last walk.

I’d allowed enough time to follow the more inland official route of the coast path. As I found a better and more direct route it means I’ve arrived with plenty of time to explore Southwold, as I hoped (last time I had to rush).

Southwold

It is a lovely resort, with a putting green just behind the pier.

Southwold

The pier itself is great fun, with it’s unusual water power clocked and amusements.

Southwold Pier

Southwold pier

The various machines are custom built by Tim Hunkin. As you can see they are rather different than your usual arcade games!

Southwold Pier

From the end of the pier I can look back at the coast I’ve been following and in the other direction where I walked last time.

Southwold from the pier

Southwold

I walked a bit further south to explore the town and the unusual lighthouse in the middle of it.

Southwold

Southwold is famous for another thing. It’s the home of the Adnams brewery. This has a long history, having been founded here in 1872. It is a large employer in the town and having won many awards for it’s beers in recent years, it has been expanding too. Much of the town smells of the beer too, it is lovely. Sadly, I’m too late for a brewery tour, but I do buy a couple of bottles (as I don’t have to carry them far now) and have time to stop for a quick pint, which is very welcome.

The Adnams brewery, Southwold

After this I have a bit more of a look round the town and then head to the bus stop for my bus to Halesworth.

Southwold

Southwold

Thankfully this time it arrives on time, so I don’t have the stress of worrying about missing my train that I had last time. The bus drops me right in front of the rather sleepy Halesworth Station.

Halesworth station

From here I catch the train back to London, which runs to time, the tube over to Waterloo and the train onwards home from there.

This was a really enjoyable walk because most of it I was either on cliff top paths or walking right along the lovely (and mostly deserted) beaches. It was an interesting and varied bit of coast, passing the soft eroding cliffs (often topped with trees) mixed in with a few of the broads. Southwold too was a lovely town in which to end, and I was glad I’d chosen to do the walk this way around so the time I had at the end of the walk was used to explore Southwold rather than Lowestoft (the latter did not look so appealing).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Suffolk bus route 99 (Coastal Clipper) : LowestoftPakefield – Kessingland – Wrentham – Reydon – Southwold. Hourly service Monday – Saturday. On Sundays there is an hourly service during the summer months and once every 2 hours in the winter. It takes 45 minutes between Lowestoft and Southwold.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 203. Lowestoft to Southwold

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, looking forward to Southwold. Walking that distance along a beach can be rather boring, but you made your trip very interesting. What I have learned about walking long distances on beaches is that you rarely stay in a straight line and are constantly seeking out good firm underfoot conditions, which is usually a mixture of sand and shingle and how dry/wet they are.

    • jcombe says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy Southwold. The town smells of beer too, which is another bonus!

      It’s funny what you say about straight lines. When walking on a deserted beach I often look back and see my own footprints, often meandering left to right, as if staggering home from the pub after too much too drink, but I’m often not aware I’m doing it, I guess it’s just trying to find firmer sand, as you say.

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